Emotional Charles Howell Secures First Title in 11 Years
IF Danny Willett thought that his 31-month wait for a victory was excruciating, then he might want to spare a thought for Charles Howell III, whose triumph at the RSM Classic at Sea Island was his first in 11 years. In truth, Howell has not suffered the same agonies as Willett - indeed, he is a money-making machine who specialises in top-10 finishes. But it seemed that he might never win again.
And he did so the hard way in the end. After leading all week, Howell dumped his drive at the second hole into the water and even admitted afterwards that he began to think: “Oh no, here we go again.” Over the years he has had umpteen opportunities to win again but has been unable to finish them off, and he feared this might end the same way.
However, Howell birdied three of his final four holes to tie Patrick Rodgers, then won with a birdie on the second playoff hole, thus converting a 54-hole lead for the first time in his career. It was the sixth 54-hole lead of his career and he lost the previous five. But this time was going to be different. This time hee shot 31 on the back nine to do it.
“I thought I had it in me, but I had never seen me do it to prove it to myself,” said Howell, who finished at 19-under 267 (64-64-68-67). “It’s kind of like the guy who thinks he can dunk, bud if you can’t dunk, you just can’t do it. I thought I had it in me but it took me a bit to actually do it.”
Howell’s third PGA Tour win came in his 529th start, and he has had 16 runner-up finishes in his career. He will start the New Year as the FedExCup leader after winning the RSM and finishing fifth in the CIMB Classic.
Howell was already three off the lead when he stood on the third tee. He bogeyed the first hole after driving into a fairway bunker, then made double-bogey with a drive into the hazard right of the second fairway. He thought his chances of winning were over. He started his comeback with birdies at the fifth and sixth to reach the turn in 36, then started the back nine with a birdie.
Four players — Howell, Rodgers, Webb Simpson and Cameron Champ — shared the lead on the back nine. Rodgers pulled two ahead with birdies on 14 and 15. Howell was able to chase him down, though. It started with a two-putt birdie at the par-five 15th, then he holed an 18-footer for a birdie on the 16th to tie Simpson and Rodgers at 18 under par. Rodgers birdied the 18th hole before Howell hit his five-foot birdie putt on the par-three 17th.
“That almost made my putt easier because then I knew, well, you have to make this to have a chance on 18,” Howell said.
Howell made that birdie at 17 to tie Rodgers. On the final green, Howell dropped to his knees as his 22-foot birdie putt missed. He barely missed his 14-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole too before making one second time around.
“Golf is a brutal game. The highs of the highs, it comes with a lot of really low lows,” Howell said. “It’s a wonderful lesson to be learned that if you truly believe in what you’re doing, to stay the course. I always go back to, okay, how do I improve, how do I get better, what do I need to work on. That’s the part I really, really enjoy.”
And that’s what means the most to Howell after his long-awaited win. “The things that I’ve been working on and practicing held up. In the playoff, I was able to hit nice drives off that tee in a left-to-right crosswind,” he said. “I was able to hit a nice 8-iron on 17 in regulation to make birdie. That bit means more to me than beating somebody.”
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